Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shaping narratives

There are some quite persuasive arguments about how narratives shape our view of the world, and recently I've been thinking about how researchers' narratives help to create the field. In digital literacies our narratives are often future-focused, in that they attempt to imagine the next generation of technology, or the skills that will be needed in the twenty-first century workplace. These narratives are shaped by other imaginaries, in which we are always being drawn into the future, rather than propelled by the past. I caught part of Lucy Powell's History of the New on the radio, in which she locates the Industrial Revolution as the point at which a 'cult of newness' began to challenge the authority of tradition. Gazing at the future is the hallmark of modernism, and it seems that the pull of the future still disciplines our thinking. There's an interesting synergy between this fascination with newness and the ethos of consumerism. In an era when the past was best, and when things were made to last one would have little interest in new fads and products; now we are always on the lookout for the next generation, the next version and so on. Why darn it if you can buy a new pair? Why make do with the existing pair when the new ones are so much better? We're sold newness in the guise of improvement. The concept of advantageousness, which I've been playing around with quite a lot lately, is a slippery beast - but I think it helps to ask the question - it gives a much-needed critical take. At least if we ask what are the advantages of a Kindle, for example, we can justify our purchase! And then we can take that further, and ask under what conditions it is advantageous, who is it advantageous to and so on.